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  • Eric G. Enlow (a1)

Here is a model for “legal theology,” a way of learning and teaching about God that arises in and responds to the desire to understand the significance of law: a son is moved to ask “what is the meaning” of the law followed by his father, and the father is commanded to explain by teaching about God's deliverance. There are three similar commands in Exodus (Exodus 12:26, 13:8, 13:14), linked in tradition, where sons wonder and fathers are commanded to explain how a particular law signifies God's redemption. These four commands in Exodus and Deuteronomy indicate a method for legal theology.

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1 All references to and quotes from the Bible are from the Revised Standard Version.

2 Or, four methods. In the rabbinical tradition, for example, in the Haggadah and in Rashi's commentary on Exodus 13:14, the four different commands are interpreted to show four different ways of teaching the relation between God and law. The differences in the interpretations of the four commandments are based on subtle differences among the son's questions and the father's answers. Depending on whether the son's question is silent (Exodus 13:8), simple (“What does this mean?” Exodus 13:14), or wise, recognizing God (Deuteronomy 6:20), the father's answer is to vary in complexity and inclusion of the son. For the silent and simple questions, the answer stresses God's past redemption in an undivided way. For the wise, the answer divides God's redemption, distinguishing God's ongoing providence, redemption and the final goal of settled righteousness before God. In the final case (Exodus 12:26), the father's answer is not to be addressed to the son because he excludes himself by the manner of his question from those following God; in response to such a cynical question, the father speaks only for himself and of his own response to God's redemption without including the son. Following this traditional reading, these four commandments suggest four models for legal theology depending on the faith of the audience and whether distinctions are to be made among God's various graces of present providence, historical redemption, and future fulfillment.

3 For example, the continuation of the opening passage, Deuteronomy 6:24 “the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes … for our good always and for our survival.”

4 Or it might be better to say, in keeping with the Thomistic natural-law tradition, that in addition to imitating God's grace in redemption, man also imitates God's providence in creation by prudential caring for others’ physical and social well-being. Responding to God's saving grace certainly permits concern with man's immediate flourishing, but orders basic goods to a higher good.

5 Justinian, Digest, 1.1.10 (translation by author).

6 Accursius, Glossa ordinaria ad Digesta, 1.1.10, s.v. “notitia” (“Sed numquid secundum hoc oportet quod quicumque vult iurisprudens vel iurisconsultus esse, debeat theologiam legere? Respondeo, non; nam omnia in corpora iuris inveniuntur.”) (translation by author).

7 Lactantius, Divine Institutes, 5.15, trans. William Fletcher, in Roberts Alexander and Donaldson James, eds. Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, Lactantius, Venantius, Asterius, Victorinus, Dionysius, Apostolic Teaching and Constitutions, Homily, Liturgies (1886; repr. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 150.

8 “We must not have any doubt that the unchangeable substance which is above the rational mind, is God. The primal life and primal essence is where the primal wisdom is. This is unchangeable truth which is the law of all the arts and the art of the omnipotent artificer. In perceiving that it cannot judge by itself … the soul ought at the same time to realize that its nature excels the nature of what it judges, but also that it is excelled by the nature according to which it judges and concerning which it cannot judge.” Augustine, Of True Religion, 31.57, in Augustine: Earlier Writings, ed. and trans. Burleigh J. H. S. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1953), 254. “And your law is the truth, and the truth you” (“Et lex tua veritas, et veritas tu”). Augustine, Confessions, 4.9.14, in The Writings of Saint Augustine, vol. 5, trans. Bourke Vernon J., The Fathers of the Church 21 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953), 85.

9 Carlyle R. W. and Carlyle A. J., The Political Theory of the Roman Lawyers and Canonists from the Tenth Century to the Thirteenth Century, vol. 2, A History of Medieval Political Theory in the West (London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1950), 8n1, citing Fragmentum Pragense 4.2 (“nihil aliud est aequitas quam Deus) and 3.9 (“Iustitia … quae quidem in Deo plena est et perfecta, in nobis vero per participationem iustitia esse dicitur.”) (translation by author).

10 Accursius, Glossa ordinaria ad Digesta, 1.1.10, v. Iustitia.

11 Accursius's contemporary, Henry de Bracton, undertakes a very similar analysis. Bracton Henry de, “What Justice Is,” in Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England, ed. Woodbine George E., trans. Thorne Samuel E. (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), 2:22–23. Bracton and Accursius both draw from the common source of Azo.

12 Accursius, Glossa ordinaria ad Digesta, 1.1.1, v. Cuius (“meruit enim ius appellari sacrum et ideo iura reddentes sacerdotes vocantur.”). Also, in his definition of natural law, Bracton explains “Natural law is that which nature, that is, God himself, taught all living things.” Bracton, “What Natural Law Is,” in Bracton on the Laws and Customs of England, 2:26.

13 See, for example, Shogimen Takashi, “The Relationship between Theology and Canon Law: Another Context of Political Thought in the Early Fourteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Ideas 60, no. 3 (1999): 417431, at 418–21 (discussing the theological opposition).

14 Leibniz goes on to detail the derivation of many theological concepts from jurisprudential concepts.

15 Translation from Johns Christopher, appendix to The Science of Right in Leibniz's Moral and Political Philosophy (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 149–50 (emphasis in original, unless otherwise indicated). Patrick Riley notes that Leibniz continued to hold that theology is a species of jurisprudence into his maturity, and criticized Pascal's theology for lacking jurisprudential foundation. Riley Patrick, Leibniz’ Universal Jurisprudence: Justice as the Charity of the Wise (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), 12.

16 Justinian, Digest, 1.1.10.

17 With respect to Plato, he held arguments for the existence, providence, and justice of God to be a necessary part of the explanatory prologues of laws (Nomoi, IV.716; X.885); Plato was imitating Zaleucus's theonomic preface to his Locrian law. See Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, 12.20.1–3. Plato considered “inspiration” by the knowledge of God a necessary condition for public office (Nomoi, XII.966). It is hard to read some of Plato's explanatory prologues without taking seriously the patristic arguments that he was inspired by reading Moses.

18 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.xxiii.2; see also Commentary on Exodus 33:19 (God is the “reason of all reasons, the law of laws, and the rule of rules.”).

19 Plato, Nomoi, IV.716.

20 Philo, On the Special Laws, 280.

21 “[F]or justice is the end of the law, the law is the prince's work, and the prince is the image of God, that disposeth all things … by the practice of virtue the prince makes himself most like the divine nature … For as God hath placed the sun and moon in heaven, as manifest tokens of his power and glory, so the majesty of a prince is resplendent on earth, as he is his representative and vice regent… and [God] hath not Justice for an assessor or counselor, but [God] is himself Justice and Right, and the original and perfection of all laws.” Plutarch, Ad Principem Ineruditum, Section 3.781–84.

22 Pseudo-Dionysius, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, V.ii, 501C.

23 Hierarchy is “a sacred order, a state of understanding and an activity approximating as closely as possible to the divine. It is uplifted to the imitation of God . . . . The goal of a hierarchy is to enable beings to be as like as possible to God and to be at one with him . . . . A hierarchy causes its members to be images of God in all respects, to be clear and spotless mirrors reflecting . . . God himself . . . . For every member of the hierarchy, perfection consists in this, that it is uplifted to imitate God as far as possible and, more wonderful still, that it becomes what scripture calls a ‘fellow workman for God’ and a reflection of the workings of God.” Pseudo-Dionysius, Celestial Hierarchy, III.i, 164D–165B.

24 “As Augustine says in Questions on the New and Old Testament: ‘The first law did not have to be given in formatted characters because inserted in nature in a certain manner is the very knowledge of the Creator.’” John of La Rochelle, Summa Halensis, book 3.2.3.q.1.1.3.

25 Repgow Eike von, Prologue First, The Saxon Mirror: A “Sachsenspiegel” of the Fourteenth Century, trans. Dobozy Maria (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 67.

26 Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, III.64.

27 “All things do worke after a sort according to lawe, whereof some superiour, unto whome they are subject, is author … only the workes and operations of God have him both for their worker, and for the lawe whereby they are wrought. The being of God is a kinde of lawe to his working … God therefore is a law both to himselfe, and to all other things besides.” Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 1.2.2, 1:59.12–5; 1.2.3, 1:60.16–18.

28 As Moses taught, Christians also believe that the theological meaning of the law, the “second use” of the law in reformed theology, is to indicate our redemption, to lead us to God's righteousness. Jesus our redeemer is, therefore, the goal of the law (Romans 10:4). The law is our pedagogue, bringing us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).

29 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known” (John 1:17–18).

30 “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’ The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2). The association of these passages with Christ is picked up in the Shepherd of Hermas: “‘Listen,’ he said, ‘this big tree that shades plains, mountains, and the whole earth is the law of God given to the whole world. But this law is the Son of God preached to the ends of the earth. The people under its shade are those who have heard the proclamation and have come to believe in it.’” Shepherd of Hermas, commentary by Osiek Carolyn, ed. Koester Helmut (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1999), 8.3.2.

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